Delta pilots picket at SEA, citing fatigue from staffing shortfall

SEATTLE — Off-Duty Delta Air Lines pilots picketed Tuesday outside Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, citing fatigue from working overtime to cover for a pilot shortage as the airline’s flight schedule returns to pre-pandemic levels.

“Delta is overscheduling flights for the number of pilots we have. So, they’re relying on pilots to fly record amounts of overtime, flying on their days off to staff the airline,” said Delta Capt. Jason Ambrosi, a union leader. “Fatigue can become a safety issue if it’s ongoing.”

According to the union, the airline was given a 90-day window in November 2021 to improve pilot rotations, but when the 90 days had come and gone, few improvements had been made.

“While Delta is attempting to hire as many pilots as it is able, it may not be enough to counter poor staffing decisions made before and during the pandemic,” the union stated.

The union also stated that having fewer pilots for the increase in flights is “leaving no wiggle room for weather delays and operational strains.”

Delta said Tuesday pilot schedules are in line with the union contract and FAA requirements.

The pilot shortage is hitting the entire airline industry.

Recently, Alaska Airlines announced it would reduce its total number of flights by 2% through the end of June in an effort to get back on track after acknowledging a shortage of pilots.

Tens of thousands of passengers who booked flights on the airline found themselves stranded at airports across the country, including at Sea-Tac.

Cancellations started the same day, as members of the Alaska Airlines Pilots Union held an informational picket for a new contract following two years of failed negotiations.

On Tuesday, Alaska canceled 14 flights.

Officials with the airline said the pilot shortage could last for months.

During the pandemic, more than 10,000 pilots left the airline industry.

“The pilot shortage problem is real, there’s no question about it,” said pilot and industry expert John Nance.

Nance said the shortage is not just caused by pilots retiring. Airlines are suddenly ramping back up from COVID cutbacks.

Nance said that, years ago, each airline had thousands of applicants. Now there are not enough new pilots in the pipeline.

“I think over time this is something that will get slowly worse if we don’t have any more solutions than we do today,” Nance said.